More about hard issues

Meaninglessness

     All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good man, so with the sinner; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them. This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all.
     I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all. Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.
Ecclesiastes 9:2, 11-12, NIV

Once I worked on the eleventh floor of a twelve-story building in an area of Arlington County with many high-rises. I had a Manhattan-like view from my office window.

One day it became very windy, and because there was a momentary lull in office activity, we all found ourselves looking out the window and at the city scene below. Someone had left large pieces of styrofoam on the roof of a nearby high-rise. The wind picked it up and showered huge pieces of styrofoam on the streets below: some were as large as six by six feet!

One of my coworkers reminisced about a similar day when it was windy. Everyone had gathered to look out the window then as now, but on that occasion, a large piece of aluminum, which was designed to enclose machinery on the roof, came loose and floated to the ground. On its way down, it struck a pedestrian in the head and killed her. It made me think that some time before, some workman had put that piece of aluminum in place. He might have thought he secured it well; his supervisor might have rewarded him for a job well done; he might have gone home, satisfied that he had done a good day’s work and had done it well—forever unaware that his actions would cause a woman’s death at some point in the future.

And it is true: the race does not go to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. Promotions do not necessarily go to the worthy, nor do raises go to those who work the hardest. Millionaires win the state lottery, and promising young people come down with fatal, debilitating diseases. Happy tourists get caught in the cross-fire of a gang war and are killed.

So what is the point of right living? Or how can we even tell if we are living right?

We try to do good deeds that benefit people, but our good deeds have unforeseen consequences; time and chance turn our good intentions to evil results.

We try to do wise things that benefit ourselves, but our investments go bad and we lose all our money; inflation and catastrophic illness pick our savings to the bone.

We try to give our money to worthy charities, but our best research does not prevent the management of the charity from siphoning off the money for personal purposes. Once I gave money to a Bible society to distribute Bibles in Russia, only to learn that the Russian Orthodox Church was outraged because western Bible societies were taking advantage of the new freedom of religion, not to help the church recover from communism, but to steal its constituency.

I am not wise enough to judge what is a good thing to do and what is not. I am not the master of the universe who can prevent calamity and chance from destroying all my works. But Jesus said that He would raise the dead and judge them by their works. He proved He could do it by raising Himself from the dead! He promised to rescue those who trust Him, and whose trust bears fruit.

Therefore, being admonished by Ecclesiastes, I do not base my conduct on what profit I can gain or by which people will benefit or by how lasting I think my contribution will be. Because no matter how much I investigate and plan, my best efforts are like sand castles at the beach, which are washed away by the coming tide.

So I abandon all hope of understanding the consequence of my actions or the wisdom of my deeds or the staying power of my investments. Instead, I trust Jesus, and I obey His commandments. Sometimes Jesus’ commandments don’t seem to fit the situation too well, but my own wisdom has been proven inadequate, so I obey them anyway.

If I am confronted by a beggar who asks me for money, I could assess whether he’ll spend it on booze or food; but I might be wrong. I could determine that he will be encouraged only to beg even more, but I do not know that. I could decide that he is responsible for his fate, but I do not have insight into his past. I might convince myself that if I ignore him, he will pick himself up by his initiative, but in fact, I could be one uncaring person too many that sends him over the brink in despair. It is not valid for me to base my action or my inaction on my assessment, because I cannot tell if my assessment is faulty. I have to base my reaction to the beggar on my obedience to Jesus’ commands and to the leadings of the Holy Spirit in that particular situation. There is no other valid way to act.

I have to confess that I really do not know what is the right thing to do in any situation in life. I might stop my car and wave an elderly pedestrian across the street, only to watch in horror as a bus runs her over in the next lane.

Therefore, I trust in Jesus, and obey His commands. I try to discern and follow the leadings of the Holy Spirit in all things. It is very hard to do, but I have concluded that anything else just makes things worse. I cannot see the ramifications of my deeds, but He can. I cannot tell the outcome of my life, but He can.

Now that all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.
Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, NIV